Creating Art That Is Spot On!

My class of older students has spent a couple of weeks creating functional art works that are decorated entirely in spots. We looked at Australian Aboriginal artwork as well as the art of Leah Dorian as inspiration. All of these artists use dots to create complex images. Using these ideas as springboards, we moved into creating our own artworks.

Our supplies were fairly simple to get together. I was on one of my frequent visits to the Salvation Army, and I picked up a wooden salad bowl set for $4.00. The wood was nice and dark and the bowls were in really great condition. I then purchased a box of cotton swabs and brought in the usual array of acrylics, paper plates (as palettes) and water jugs.

The students were asked to create functional art pieces out of the re-purposed bowls and this was all the instruction they seemed to need. I didn’t tell them to paint an undercoat on the bowls but a few of them decided to do this on their own. Others just left the wood as-is and started painting dots immediately. Many started with simple patterns on their first bowls and then, on their second, moved in different directions. Sometimes, the materials are the catalyst for creativity, and this seemed to be the case.

Here are some of their works, completed, or in progress:

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Feeling conflicted

I learned some time back that being in a leadership role would mean moments of discomfort. I don’t know if anyone revels in the idea of conflict but I guess I was resigned to the reality that being a leader would mean making decisions and moving in directions that not everyone would immediately agree with. My passion for learning and my conviction that children deserve our best has carried me through many challenging times. Today, after another visit to Twitter, I find myself hovering around the edges of another conflict. However, this one rests within me.

Twitter is filled with conviction. The enthusiasm of so many members of my PLN has carried me through many days. But every now and then I find myself asking, “How much is too much?” I agree that we have to do better and I believe we can and are moving in that direction. I am hungry to find the best ways to support learning. I adore creativity, innovation, inquiry, PBL, SBG…but there are moments when our rallying cry seems almost overwhelming.

Because I see our teachers, who are asked to do more and more by anyone and everyone. I see many of them just as curious as their leaders; trying out new ways of encouraging learning and engagement. I see them struggling to find a balance between their own wellness and their commitment to the job. And I wonder how many leaders are reminding them to take care if themselves.

I guess the conflict within me is more of a question: How do we continue to rally, promote, support and share a vision for an education system that truly supports students and their potential while protecting those who will be walking that change forward? How do we share a more balanced message of passion combined with compassion?

I would love your thoughts…

Inquiry workshop: Yesterday’s post continued

Today I lived out yesterday’s predicted “day of learning and fun” at our Inquiry workshop. Our participants made it on terrible roads, which demonstrates the steadfast Saskatchewan spirit and commitment to learning held by teachers in the NESD. It was a great group, with teachers across grades and from many schools, which invited us all to push and mould our understanding to fit multiple scenarios. As suspected, the day was filled with gems.

Of course, our plan for the day was structured to invite the gems. We tried to provide some foundation to our learning about inquiry, but do it in a way that was experiential and inquiry-based, in and of itself. You have to feel inquiry to “get” inquiry. We asked participants to think of an activity they love and flesh out the characteristics of this activity. We shared our thinking on Google Docs (in fact our whole workshop was digital) and then examined these characteristics as they relate to inquiry and to motivation. We then talked about “flow” (when you become so involved in something that you lose track of time.) We learned to recognize this state of being in ourselves during the day. This is how we know when good inquiry learning is happening.

The rest of the day centred on practicing way to invite students to ask strong questions (we used the Question Focus Technique), to have students share their understanding as it develops (through Chalk Talk on Mindmeister) and how to effectively observe inquiry in order to adjust instruction and assess student learning “in the moment.” We read some literature (which I gathered from Twitter!) and worked on fleshing out some “proof-positive demonstrations of learning.” We explored some outcomes to decide what parts were negotiable and flexible and what parts weren’t. If the product was non-negotiable (panel presentation in ELA30) then the process was flexible and if the process was non-negotiable (analysis in social studies 9) then the product was flexible. Lastly, we engaged in a fishbowl, where two thirds of the participants had to create an informational text about inquiry using either Popplet or GoAnimate and the other third observed them. This led to some hearty discussions and sense-making.

What did I learn? What were my gems? I learned that observing without helping is hard; especially when it involves letting people struggle a little. I learned that the Zone of Proximal development varies from person to person and situation to situation…even with adults. I learned that I could actually observe flow, right in the workshop, and what a great thing to see. I received confirmation yet again that learning is richest when it emerges from experience. The less I talk, the better. I also confirmed that I love working with my two co-facilitators. Co-teaching is just better…more strengths to reach more people. I learned that coming up with QFocus statements for the Question Focus Technique is hard, it takes time and is so important to the overall purpose of provoking wonder. I learned that QFocus provocations for grade one students might be better if they were provocative images (provocative, as in provoking wonder). Finally, I learned that adults can play too…in fact, they want to play. This is why I know we need more play in our schools, even for the big kids. Play and learning go hand in hand.

Today was just what I knew it would be…a learning experience and a whole lot of fun.

The art that lives inside us!

Today, we all dove into our ongoing art works as soon as we arrived. Everyone was in a different place. Most people were working on their portraits, or their Picasso studies. Everyone embraced colour. I am finding that facilitating is so much better when everyone works at their own pace. Some students want to learn how to mix colours because their just-right colour isn’t in my selection. Some want to learn how to balance their works. Some teach each other how to blend oil pastels. Others go in a totally unplanned direction and make creatures, working in pairs and laughing at their combinations. Regardless of where they all are, they ask to explore something as it relates to the image they are striving to create. This is when learning is magical – the sweet spot. They learn because they want to learn and not because I think they should learn.

Here are some of their results:

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She spent a great deal of time trying to master blending with oil pastels and the results were powerful. She taught the others what she had learned.

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She mixed every colour on her own! She was unhappy with the brown that I had so she experimented until she found the colour she wanted. Once she started mixing, she decided to make every colour on her own.

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She did some amazing work today. She has worked really hard on balance and her Mona Lisa showed it. Impressive for grade four! Her Blue Period work was also completely independent. She just dove in a made it work. Her challenge was working in mostly monochromatic and still making her figure “pop.”

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She has no fear of colour. Her challenge was colour balance. Picasso really moved colours around and she decided to add the pink around the head at the last minute.

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This five year old completed the paint and portrait on his own and then he worked with a grade four friend to create the crazy creatures. They amused themselves for the whole hour and a half. The results are really funny and interesting.

There is no doubt that art lives inside human beings. The fun part is watching it come out.

A little more of less

Last summer, I walked alongside my Dad as he moved through the final stage of his life. Anyone who has travelled a similar path knows how challenging this is and how it resets your view of life. During that period and since his passing, I have thought a lot about my own life and what my new understanding means for the choices I make as I move forward.

My long-standing identity is riddled with descriptors: passionate, driven, curious, intelligent. These are the attributes that I have valued and, therefore, cling to with amazing strength. But I have considered that every attribute has a partner: emotional, self-absorbed, unempathetic, arrogant. I think people are made up of both sides of any quality and the trick is to try to lean in one direction more than the other. We have to constantly stir reflection into the mix. We have to look outward and inward to consider the consequences of decisions we make in the name of “Who we are.”

So what does this have to do with anything? Well, I work in a profession undergoing monumental change. I feel pressure everyday to be all those good qualities I mentioned, in the name of helping children experience the best of themselves. I have blogged about this aspect of my work many times already. And I take a great deal of comfort knowing that when I am in the final stage of my own life, I can look back and say that there was never any doubt that I devoted much time and energy to something I believed in and cared about.

However, just like there are two sides to the qualities we hold, there are two sides to devoting ones’ life to a particular lifestyle. This is what I have been really thinking about because I see myself reflected back to me in the faces of people I talk to every day. Many people I know WORK. They pour themselves into their jobs. And when they are done, they pour themselves into their schedules. I, too, rush from thing to thing sometimes. And let’s face it -our society values this approach to work and life. I, too, have been seduced by this belief that the more we do, the harder we work, the bigger our lives are, the better we are. I have spent time and energy living by this belief and showing others that it was so. I see it all around me.

The thing is, it doesn’t work for me. It makes me unhealthy. It makes me unhappy. Because as I sat beside my Dad day after day, I realized that “driver behaviour” doesn’t matter in the end. No one is measuring our value by those criteria. No one is benefitting from continuous lists, and more being done. My children don’t benefit from being rushed all the time. I am worse in my job when I push without thinking. If it doesn’t help me and doesn’t benefit anyone else, why do it? Who am I living for anyway?

So, I am slowing down. Most importantly, I am slowing down without guilt (a work in progress). Because more isn’t better for me and my family. Because I can be great at my job and not give it my soul. Because I am better when life is slower. I feel things more deeply. I listen. I feel. I think our world might need a little more of less.

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